Designed by Ministry of Design, COO is a new type of hospitality experience that helps guests form connections with one another.
COO is a new neighbourhood hostel located in Tiong Bahru, but it is unlike any other hostel you would find in Singapore. It’s called a ‘sociatel’ – a term COO defines as “an establishment providing accommodation, meals and other services that revolve around all things social.”
“The inspiration behind COO is the prevalence of millennial travellers who are willing to take the road less travelled. To them, travelling and leisure are no longer a passive pursuit, but an opportunity to gain local insights and garner authentic experiences. We want COO to be a homegrown concept with an Asian hospitality sensibility to round off that experience,” says Silas Lee, Founder of COO.
Ministry of Design (MOD) was enlisted to work on COO, and while the firm has worked on many boutique hotels as well as larger hospitality projects, this was the very first hostel project for the studio. “When Silas walked in the door, he came with a fairly small project in size, but a very big project in idea, and that was what we were very intrigued by,” says Colin Seah, Founder Designer of MOD, and COO’s Brand Architect and Designer.
COO at Tiong Bahru resides in a four-storey building that was already a hostel in its former life. While the original bones of the hostel have been retained, MOD has done major work in the reception and bistro. The public spaces on all floors also exude a strong sense of whimsicality, playfulness and fun – characteristics that form the brand DNA of COO.
“Over the months and in discussions with the client, the designers, we finally came up with a distilled notion that this isn’t just a hostel, it’s not just a restaurant or a bistro; it’s something more. It stands for real communal values, it’s social, it’s also really playful in the way it expresses the story behind the history of the area. And it’s really really proud to be local,” says Seah.
A metal mesh inspired by the metal gates of old housing estates around the area frames the striking entrance. Inside, the reception and bistro are wrapped entirely in black, with the walls and ceiling artfully covered in fun, informative graphics that tell the story of Tiong Bahru. One will find solid historical facts alongside quirky trivia. There are punchy graphic prints of ‘kopitiam’ uncles, art deco architecture, and Bob the neighbourhood cat. Above head, one will find a neon art piece shaped as an abstract map of the neighbourhood.
“It was imperative that the design of COO paid homage to the strong essence of local heritage of its location. We wanted every part of the property to be able to tell a story of the district we are in, but in a playful way that reflects COO’s DNA,” says Seah.
COO bistro is an all-day casual dining outlet with a menu that draws inspiration from both global and local cuisine. It also celebrates its local roots with whimsical interpretations of familiar local dishes that resonate with the Tiong Bahru neighbourhood.
The bistro is COO’s main social space. It features a private corner – casually separated from the public area by the same metal mesh found on the exterior –where hostel guests can enjoy breakfast in the mornings, work or simply hang out.
The upper levels contain 11 rooms with a total of 68 bunk beds. Hallways are similarly wrapped in black and are plastered with cheekily written house rules and other witty icons. An open-air terrace on the second floor offers more room for guests to mingle or simply to relax.
Perhaps one of the most unique – and socially-driven – aspects of the COO experience is COO connect, a digital interest matching tool that is made available to guests when they make a booking. Commissioned by COO, the platform was created in collaboration with BBH Labs, Blacksheep Live and MOD.
With COO Connect, guests who book with COO can create a personal profile based on key interests and log in to the COO Connect platform. They can then connect and chat with other guests who will be staying at the same property during the same time period – even prior to coming – and make arrangements to meet and travel together if they so choose.
“In studying the millennials we realised that they are very devise addicted,” says Seah. “One day I said to Silas, why don’t we find something that transcends the physical space, that would allow people to form communities on the net, through their mobile device?”
“The whole idea [with COO Connect] is that when you are in a foreign country you’ll be able to band together with people with similar interests and go and explore the city together. This is just the first prototype. We hope that in the next phase, it’ll link you to locals who are interested to be part of the COO community, then your reach into the city will be even greater,” shares Seah.
COO’s ultimate goal is to expand into various neighbourhoods, both in Singapore and overseas. Each will reflect the strong DNA of the brand, while paying homage to the neighbourhood they are in.
Ministry of Design